If the city moves ahead with a controversial proposal to expand gaming at Woodbine Racetrack it should also reduce the hours at the Etobicoke facility to help minimize social costs, a report from the city’s medical officer of health suggests.

The report from Dr. David McKeown calls on council to maintain its May, 2013 resolution opposing any expanded gaming in Toronto but it also says that if consent is given for the addition of table games at Woodbine it should be conditional on the hours of operation being limited to no more than 18 hours a day.

Currently the electronic gaming machines at Woodbine are available to patrons 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“As the board of health concluded in 2012 and 2013, the best way to prevent problem gambling increases is to not expand gambling access. Should council decide to proceed with expansion, however, it should identify harm mitigation measures and strategies to reduce problem gambling as conditions for its approval that would apply to both OLG and any future private operator,” the report states. “While Toronto Public Health has previously identified a number of measures that would be effective at lessening problem gambling, requiring any future private operator at Woodbine to maintain existing responsible gaming measures and reducing hours of operation are likely to have the greatest impact on problem gambling in relation to this facility.”

In March, council voted in favour of asking the city manager to report back to executive committee on June 30 about the economic and social implications of expanded gaming at Woodbine.

As part of that decision, council also authorized the city manager to conduct public consultations on the idea, the results of which will be included in his presentation to executive committee.

In his report McKeown said that while the expansion of gaming at Woodbine would attract some tourists, the majority of new patrons would come from Rexdale and the surrounding area, which would be “more vulnerable to the impacts of problem gambling” due to below average income levels.

“A review of gambling studies reported that lower income people contribute a higher proportion of their income to gambling than people in middle and high income groups. Furthermore, recent estimates indicate that Ontario problem gamblers currently account for 24% of the expenditure on government-sponsored gambling, with this proportion being even higher for casino table games and electronic gambling machines. This suggests a large part of gambling spending in Ontario is coming from a small group of vulnerable people,” the report said.

McKeown’s report will be considered by the board of health on Monday.

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